Monday, November 3, 2008

Isai Vignani (Music scientist)

Raja, who has been the leading film musician for more than 3 decades, did a few gimmicks to get public attention – it was more aimed at demonstrating that he is different. He created a lot of hype with the Keladi Kanmani song where he got SPB to sing the entire charanam in one breath. Similarly, he used the heart beat as the rhythm for the song Om Namaha from Idhayathai Thirudathe. His Kalaivaniye song which was created as an arohanam only. These are popular examples of his experimentation. However, Raja’s music experiments are very varied and in this section, I would like to share some of the experiments that I am aware of. I plan to write more on this as I uncover more...

Why should all film songs follow the same structure?

In the ‘film music basics’ section, we saw how film music is structured for the most part. Raja, being creative and fully aware of the unwritten rules, experiments by breaking them occasionally. While Raja sticks to the Indian film music structure for the most part, he does a lot of experimentation within the structure. For example, the song Naan Onru Ketpen Tharuvaya from Ilaya Ragam (1995) uses no percussion and is fully supported by the synth and guitar throughout the first pallavi, first charanam and he introduces percussion only from the second interlude onwards.

Why should a single film song have an Indian or Western style orchestration only?

Most music composers stick to one style of orchestration as it gets easy to compose the ludes and synchronize the main melody. Raja experiments. Let me list three such experiments from a long list. 1) Siriya Paravai Siragai Virikka from Antha Oru Nimidam (1985) is a song that has three charanams. The middle charanam and the second interlude is composed in a Western style and the rest of the song is in Indian format. 2) Oh Vasantha Raaja from Neengal Kettavai (1985) – this takes the experiment up by one notch. The initial pallavi, the first interlude and the first charanam are all in Indian format – complete with mridangam, tabla and the works. The orchestration completely and seamlessly switches to Western drums and violins from the second interlude and the second charanam is also orchestrated in a western style. The transitions are perfect in both these examples and this can be done only by someone who has mastery over both these idioms – Indian and Western. 3) Another example of this technique is the song Then Mozhi from Solla Thudikuthu Manasu (1988). The first pallavi and charanam is orchestrated the western way and the second charanam is done the Indian way only to return to the final pallavi in the western fashion.

Why should WCM concepts such as counterpoint be used only with the Western orchestration?

Raja has used counterpoint techniques on several non-western type compositions. As I mentioned before, Metti Oli from Metti (1982) uses typical Carnatic swara singing between Raja and Janaki in counterpoint mode. Another example of Carnatic counterpoint is the song Aavesemantha aalapanene from the film Aalapana (Telugu), where Raja has recorded SPB singing two swaras in counterpoint - what a melody! Hear this wonderful Indian melodies in counterpoint - only a genius can think of this...

Another example of Raja using two unusual Western techniques in counterpoint mode is having a grand violin section playing a counter melody to a choir as heard in kottum kuzhal vizhi from Kalapani (1997). Hear this grand piece of orchestration...

Can CCM and WCM engage in a dialog?

Absolutely. Two examples that are worth mentioning: Nadham Ezhunthathadi from Gopura Vaasalile(1991). This is a light classical composition and if you observe the first interlude, for few seconds, the Western violins start off a dialog with the Indian style violin composition. Even in some heavy Carnatic compositions of Raja such as Poon Kadhave Thazh thiravai from Nizhalgal (1980), the interludes are composed as a dialog between CCM and WCM. In fact, this is the most common experiment that Raja does in countless compositions that he may not even view this as experimentation any more.

Can a transition between a charanam and a pallavi be done by percussion?

Raja has used percussion as a transition tool in several of his compositions – the best I have observed without any parallel is the song Radha AzhaikiraaL from Therkaththi KaLLan (1988) sang by Janaki. What I found striking was the use of the tabla for the charanam and Western orchestration for the pallavi and the interludes. What I found unique is the transition from Indian to Western at the end of the charanam to the Pallavi - that's a beautiful dialog between the Western drum and the Indian tabla in such rapid pace with the support of the bass guitar. I have not heard such a beautiful Indian to Western transition in such a short interval in any song by any MD so well executed.

Can a transition between a charanam and a pallavi be done with voices?

There are several songs that Raja has used chorus as a transition between the charanam and pallavi. However, one of the best use of voice for the transition is in the song Bhoopalam Isaikum from Thooral Ninnu Pochu (1982) where the transition is done using a humming beautifully.

Can Indian and western percussion engage in a dialog?

There are several Raja compositions that have a constant dialog between Indian and Western percussion. However, the one where the dialog itself is used as the interlude is the song Ila Nenje Vaa from Vanna Vanna PookaL (1991) - both the interludes are nothing but wonderful dialog between Indian and Western percussion. Hear the wonderful dialog...

Can folk and CCM engage in a dialog?

Another dimension to Raja’s folk is the song Aayiram Thamarai Motukkale from the film Alaigal Oiyvadhillai (1982). This song was based on a traditional kummi type folk song that Raja wanted to introduce. Raja turns this kummi into a CCM raga subhapanthuvarali and also introduces chorus and Western orchestration on top! No wonder Raja fans cannot just settle for just vannila flavor - they need a split banana ice cream with another two flavors thrown in!

Can folk and WCM engage in a dialog?

As we discussed in the folk section, a number of Raja’s folk compositions are so westernized that the entire composition is nothing but a dialog between folk and western. Let’s take an example - Samakozhi Koovuthamma from Ponnu Oorukku Pudhusu (1979) – observe the third interlude in this song – a perfect synthesizer and violin counterpoint and the song returns to the charanam that is back to its folk base.

Why can’t the string section in a charanam be replaced with a piano or chorus or other techniques?

Most Raja detractors complain about his constant use of violin string section in his charanams. There are several songs where Raja has used other techniques. Three examples that come to my mind immediately: Niram Pirithu Paarthen from Time (1999) uses keyboard to back up the entire charanam. Similarly, Intha Ulagil from Madhu (2005) is composed with entirely backed by piano (not sure if this is the electric piano – it does not sound like the synthesizer). Lastly, the song Inimael NaaLum from Iravu Pookal (1986) uses chorus instead of the string section to back the charanam.

Can a song be composed with no percussion?

Raja has tried this with the song Therke Veesum Thenral Katre from Kolangal (1995) where the entire song (exception: an initial tap on the tabla) has no use of any percussion. The entire song is supported by the synth and the base guitar.

Can chromaticism work for Indian film music?

The final pallavi of Oh Butterfly from Meera (1992) is a great example of how Raja handles chromaticism – pay attention to the violins and flutes as SPB and Asha sing the concluding pallavi.


Suresh S said...

One lovely change from Carnatic to Western is 'Poo Malardhida', the Karaharapriya based song from 'Tik Tik Tik'. The first pallavi has typical carnatic support and the second pallavi has western support but with a few lovely taps of the mridangam. Excellent stuff.

Another song without percussion would be 'Ennulle Ennulle' from 'Valli'. Excellent support by the violins. Also listen to 'Kaiyetha' from 'Vinoda Yatra' (Malayalam). Wonderful support by the keyboard / piano.


ravinat said...

Hi Suresh

Thanks for your comments. It is impossible to list every experiment that Raja does. In general, the experiments that are visible to a listener are based on his/her point of view. I am glad you have observed some of his experiments as well.

I had written about 'Ennulle Enulle' earlier under the violin counterpoint section and did not want to repeat myself.

I will definitely write about his Malayalam work. Apart from 'Kaiyetha' in Vinodha Yatra, I was equally blown away by Sooryan (Vasantha Nilavin) and Rasathanthiram (Poo Kunkumapoo). Malayalam and Telugu deserves a separate write up and some more research on my part.



Suresh S said...

I agree with you. It is almost an impossible task to list all of Raja's experiments. And as you say, each one of us hears a different innovation. That is something amazing about Raja.

I like your posts and am looking forward to more posts from you.


Emjay said...

Excellent Post.

Bala said...

Ravi, Minor correction - Nadham Ezhunthathadi is from Gopura vaasalile. All the songs in this film are outstanding - check them out - this might be feed for more research :)

Counterpoint voice with voice - Check Keeravani Iravile Kanavile paadavanee - This is an awesome one by SPB.

ravinat said...

Thanks Bala for pointing out the error. I have corrected it. There were many such errors readers have pointed out in 2008 and 2009. Thanks for all of them.

Keeravani - yes, I am aware of the vocal harmony/counter melody that Raja has done in this song similar to 'Aavesa Manta'.

I had a post on Raja's vocal harmony in mind that I wanted to include this song. Thanks for bringing this up.

Recenty, one of the readers brought to my attention another obscure vocal harmony work of Raja in the 90s. This is a never ending musical mine that you can keep digging for life.


Ravi Natarajan

Anonymous said...

Another less known number is from Raja Rajathaan, a ramarajan movie.
Song - Eerettu pathinaaru... wonderful piece.